An FEI committee has been named to draft a road-map to prosperity for the fast-growing sport of endurance, following unease among some national federations over fracture rates and drug infractions in the Middle East.
The FEI has named its Endurance Strategic Planning Group, which follows on from the Round Table meeting held late in July to discuss endurance concerns.
The new group has been tasked with developing a strategic plan for endurance to cover the next decade.
The FEI says the plan must account for increased levels of participation, a greater number of events and improved standards.
“The national federations, athletes, trainers, officials and organisers must adhere to and promote the highest Clean Sport standards and meet the FEI’s Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the horse at all events,” the governing body said.
“It should encourage an environment in which riders and horses compete in a spirit of partnership and fair play according to the requirements of the FEI’s Clean Sport policies and where the welfare of the equine athlete is paramount.”
The recommendations from the group will go to the FEI General Assembly for consideration.
The group’s first conference is set for this week and members will meet in person in Dubai early in October.
The group will be chaired by Andrew Finding, a European Equestrian Federation board member and chief executive of the British Equestrian Federation.
The other members are veterinarian Brian Sheahan, of Australia, who chairs the FEI Endurance Committee; Joe Mattingley, of the United States, an international Endurance rider; Saeed H Al Tayer, of the United Arab Emirates, who is vice-president of the Dubai Equestrian Club and organiser of FEI World Endurance Championships; and veterinarian Jean-Louis Leclerc, of France, an internationally respected and successful chef d’équipe and team manager within the discipline.
FEI Secretary General Ingmar de Vos said: “Andrew Finding is one of the most knowledgeable people in equestrian sport worldwide and all the members bring a wealth of expertise as veterinarians, successful riders, trainers, event organisers and team managers.”
The group would be fully supported by FEI director of endurance Ian Williams and FEI veterinary director Graeme Cooke, de Vos said.
“I have no doubt that the group will analyse the discipline thoroughly and professionally and will provide the FEI with sound recommendations for the sport’s further successful development.”
Finding pledged to be diligent in the role. “I shall approach this task from a totally independent standpoint,” he said.
“The group will work with complete integrity, taking advice from those who are familiar with the problems and challenges of endurance sport.
“If I need to be tough in commenting on behalf of the group then that is what I shall do. It is my intention to have our work followed and verified by the Equestrian Community Integrity Unit.
“Our most important objective is to find solutions and help ensure the sport and everyone connected with it follows, at all times, the FEI’s Clean Sport policy and the Code of Conduct for the Welfare of the Horse. We must look forward and work together positively.”
The group arose from July’s round-table meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland, but only time will tell whether its proposals will ease tensions over worrying levels of drug infractions and injuries in the Middle East.
That meeting drew 22 delegates, including representatives from Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, the European Equestrian Federation, the FEI Endurance Committee and FEI Headquarters.
Delegates agreed that, globally, all efforts would be made to reduce the numbers of horses testing positive for prohibited substances and suffering injuries, with delegates agreeing that the current rules, when fully implemented, already served the sport well.
Short-term proposals included reinforcement of the duties and obligations of FEI officials and increased levels of testing for prohibited substances in all regions.
Finding said the meeting had involved “a full and frank discussion about the challenges for endurance”.
The meeting was called as a result of growing concerns expressed by several national federations over drug infractions and injury rates in the Middle East.
One European national federation even raised the prospect of a breakaway group to distance the wider sport from the ongoing problems.
For the last decade, endurance has been the fastest-growing FEI discipline in terms of the number of FEI events and FEI riders and horses. Two years ago it surpassed dressage as the second-largest FEI discipline and there has even been talk of the FEI trying to gain Olympic status for endurance.
But the disciplinary decisions from the FEI over the last eight years provide a sorry litany of drug infractions in endurance, with a solid majority originating from the Middle East. It has been a blight on the growing status of the sport.
The Swiss Equestrian Federation led the charge on the issue over infractions in the Middle East, writing to FEI secretary general Ingmar de Vos late in March on the issue.
Its president, Charles Trolliet, and a board member, Peter Christen, laid out the federation’s concerns in a three-page letter, saying they were writing on behalf of worried riders, trainers and officials, as well as the public, media, and animal protection groups.
The pair said the Swiss federation could not accept the situation any longer, citing animal welfare concerns and the fairness of competitions.
The letter discussed drug concerns and “tremendous” fracture rates.
It noted that, from 2010 to 2012, 41 endurance horses were found to be positive for banned substances.
By comparison, the discipline of jumping, which had 31,064 registered horses – more than three times the number registered for endurance – recorded 19 infringements in the same period.
Notably, the letter said, 82.9 per cent of the cases in endurance originated from the FEI’s zone VII – the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, and Jordan.
The letter asserted that such breaches indicated “a clear disrespect of certain riders, trainers and veterinarians concerning the welfare of horses in sport and the FEI code of conduct”.
The federation called on the FEI to take immediate measures to increase medication controls, especially in nations known to have a high frequency of positive test results.
It suggested a system be introduced allowing for the temporary exclusion of nations with a poor doping record.
“This critical situation … is of the highest potential explosive relevance,” the letter said, “putting at risk the image of all other FEI equestrian disciplines.”
The Swiss raised the prospect of an international movement of riders, trainers and officials being created who were no longer willing to accept the situation.
The French federation had written to the FEI about the welfare issue, in rather briefer terms, in October last year.
National sports director Pascal Dubois suggested if the issue was not addressed, it threatened to tarnish the reputation of endurance.
It is understood that Belgian officials had also complained.